Review: A Key an Egg an Unfortunate Remark by Harry Connolly

key an egg an unfortunate remark by harry connollyFormat read: ebook purchased from Amazon
Formats available: ebook, paperback
Genre: urban fantasy
Length: 294 pages
Publisher: Radar Avenue Press
Date Released: March 3, 2015
Purchasing Info: Author’s Website, Goodreads, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Kobo, Book Depository

After years of waging a secret war against the supernatural, Marley Jacobs put away her wooden stakes and silver bullets, then turned her back on violence. She declared Seattle, her city, a safe zone for everyone, living and undead. There would be no more preternatural murder under her watch.

But waging peace can make as many enemies as waging war, and when Marley’s nephew turns up dead in circumstances suspiciously like a vampire feeding, she must look into it. Is there a new arrival in town? Is someone trying to destroy her fragile truce? Or was her nephew murdered because he was, quite frankly, a complete tool?

As Marley investigates her nephew’s death, she discovers he had been secretly dabbling in the supernatural himself. What, exactly, had he been up to, and who had he been doing it with? More importantly, does it threaten the peace she has worked so hard to create? (Spoiler: yeah, it absolutely does.)

My Review:

I bought this book because I read an article from the author on io9. It turned out that the io9 article was an extract from a more complete essay published at Black Gate. It’s here, go read it. I’ll wait.

For those who didn’t go to the full article, it’s the author talking about the writing of this book – specifically that there are no female protagonists in urban fantasy of a certain age. Or any age over 35. He had me hooked at that point, because yes, I’m over 35. You may not be yet, but we all get there at some point, unless we don’t survive.

There are female wisdom figures in urban fantasy over that age. There are also plenty of cozy mysteries where the sleuth, amateur or professional, is of retirement age – remember Miss Marple?

But in urban fantasy every heroine (and pretty much every hero), kicks butt, takes names and sets things on fire, not necessarily in that order. What if your heroine is past the chasing suspects at top speed stage but can still bring the baddies in with a lot of brain and heart? Especially a lot of brain.

We may not be as fast at 60+ as we are at 30+, but we (hopefully) know more stuff. And magic, in particular, is a field where knowing more stuff can definitely win the day.

Marley Jacob is 62, and she has been keeping Seattle safe from the supernatural, and the supernatural safe in the city, for a long time. She’s a good witch, but there are definitely circumstances where she is a good witch in the same way that Granny Weatherwax in the Discworld is a good witch – because her goodness is so sharp that it cuts things – including, occasionally, herself.

Marley is certainly a chaos magnet of the highest order. A lot of things go wrong in her orbit, sometimes because of something she did, and often because of something someone wants to do to her – with extreme malice.

Although its not ever explained, I’m pretty sure based on context in the story that Marley Jacob’s name is no accident. If it rings a bell that you can’t quite close in on, reverse the order. Jacob Marley was Ebenezer Scrooge’s ghostly partner in A Christmas Carol. (I hope that in some later book we get more info, so I can find out if my guesses are anywhere near the mark.)

The title of the book, as long as it is, is also a description of the key elements of the story. All those things are involved, but it’s the last, that unfortunate remark, that sends everything careening on its way. Or at least that brings some of what is skulking in the dark out into the light.

It’s up to Marley, and her nephew and new right hand man Albert, to figure out how one unfortunate remark to her other nephew, the late and not in the least lamented Aloysius, could have kicked off so much chaos and mayhem in her city. Before it kills them all.

Escape Rating A+: For me, this book was absolutely un-putdown-able. (That needs to be a word)

Whatever the stereotype of older women may be in your head, Marley is guaranteed not to fit into it – and that’s a terrific thing. She’s very clear that once upon a time, she waged war. She used to be that kick ass magical gunslinger, and she has REGRETS. Waging peace in her one small corner of the world is just as hard, but she believes it is better in the long run for everyone – and backs up that belief with a lot of wisdom as well as the occasional spell.

But she doesn’t do violence. Her new assistant Albert was a soldier in Afghanistan, and one of their constant struggles is his desire to protect and defend Marley, with weaponry if necessary, only to discover that she has already figured a way out and that his attempts to grab a gun have only gotten in her way and made things worse.

At the same time, Marley is giving Albert a lesson about magic and its uses in the world, as well as an introduction to everything in Seattle that goes bump in the night. Albert also gets a surprising lesson into the old saying that goes, “Be careful what you wish for. You might get it.” Albert wants to meet a werewolf.

Marley’s version of waging peace involves keeping her city safe. At the very beginning of the story, she makes it clear to the late Aloysius that part of what she’s keeping the city (or at least its female population) safe from is him. When he asks her for a love potion, and she explains to him very carefully that what he is asking for is really a rape potion, I wanted to stand up and cheer.

She also makes Aloysius finally see himself as others see him – a smarmy and self-absorbed user. Also a complete slacker and bully who is disliked if not hated by everyone he puts the touch on. Seeing the light gets Aloysius’ lights turned off permanently. But even though he was an arsehole, he was still family. Marley moves heaven and earth (sometimes close to literally) to find out what the jerk was involved in that got him killed.

Finding out that there’s a dragon at the bottom of it all is a fantastic surprise.

If you love urban fantasy, or even like it, this is an awesome book. Please read it so we get more.

Reviewer’s note: I lived in Seattle until very recently, so a lot of the places in this book are VERY familiar. It’s not just that I’ve been stuck waiting for the Ballard Bridge more than a few times. There’s a scene where Marley and Albert go to the grocery store on W. Dravus in Magnolia, and walk towards Magnolia Hill over the railroad tracks. The store is a QFC, and I’ve been there and walked that same stretch. I still miss the Red Mill Burgers across the street. Very deja vu.

***FTC Disclaimer: Most books reviewed on this site have been provided free of charge by the publisher, author or publicist. Some books we have purchased with our own money or borrowed from a public library and will be noted as such. Any links to places to purchase books are provided as a convenience, and do not serve as an endorsement by this blog. All reviews are the true and honest opinion of the blogger reviewing the book. The method of acquiring the book does not have a bearing on the content of the review.

Jacob T Marley

I love Dickens’ A Christmas Carol. I particularly enjoy stories that re-interpret the classic tale just a bit, and Jacob T. Marley by R. William Bennett provides yet another delightful twist.

We all know Ebenezer Scrooge’s tale. His name has become a byword for miserliness due to the genius of Charles Dickens’ storytelling. But A Christmas Carol is the tale of Scrooge’s redemption. Ebenezer becomes a better man because Jacob Marley has spent his afterlife repenting of his sins. Jacob Marley has chosen to give his partner Ebenezer the opportunity to repent in life, while it might still do him, and the world, some good. Why did Jacob Marley send the Spirits to visit Ebenezer Scrooge that Christmas Eve? Just who was Jacob Marley?

Although Scrooge refers to Marley as “a good man of business”, Marley couldn’t have been born in his counting-house! He must have started out in the usual way, whether he had a family, or was an orphan, but he couldn’t have been hatched from an egg. A Christmas Carol isn’t quite that much of a fantasy.

Unlike Ebenezer Scrooge, who was mostly abandoned at boarding school, in this telling of Marley’s story, young Jacob comes from a loving but middle-class home with good parents and several siblings. Marley’s downfall is pride. His pride in his mathematical skill causes him to abandon anything that does not further his ambition and his need to be the best. He leaves his family behind: continuing his relationships with his parents and siblings wastes time he might spend on business.

One afternoon, angry at the delay caused by a funeral procession, he meets a young man who is just like himself. They have common cause in their irritation at the funeral, but different reasons behind that irritation. The deceased is Ebenezer’s sister, Fan. Ebenezer is angry that Fan died because she did not reveal her difficulties to him. He could have prevented her death if she had humbled  herself. It is her fault she is dead. Marley is angry at the delay. While they wait for the traffic to untangle itself, Marley offers Scrooge an interview at his counting-house.

Marley completes Scrooge’s transformation into the miserly man of business that we meet in Dickens’ masterwork. As we all know. Marley did not do Scrooge any favors. By the time Marley dies, there is no humanity left in Scrooge, he might as well be a walking account book. But as Marley lays on his deathbed and watches Scrooge, Marley recovers his humanity, at least enough to realize what he has done. He begins to atone. When he dies, he is given a chance to work towards his own redemption by trying to convince the spirits to give Scrooge a chance at his–before it’s too late.

Escape Rating: A+: I finished this in one sitting. I sat down for lunch and got lost in the book. The language evokes the classic without going over the top about it. And it retells just enough of the original to refresh the memory without seeming repetitious. We know the story. A little familiarity is good. Too much would be boring. This is just right.

I still have very fond memories of the first version of A Christmas Carol I ever saw — the Mr. Magoo cartoon version.  I can still remember him singing, “I’m all alone in the world” at the boarding school. The cartoon encapsulated the story; love, loss, redemption, and does it well.

It was time for Jacob Marley’s redemption. Well done.

A Midwinter Fantasy

A Midwinter Fantasy is a collection of three novellas that take place at, of course, Midwinter. In all three of the stories, it is the festival of giving, but because all of the stories are fantasy romances, the holiday celebrated is not always or not exactly Christmas.

The first story in the collection is A Christmas Carroll by Leanna Renee Hieber, and the story is set in the same storyline as her Strangely Beautiful series. In fact, the action of this Christmas tale takes place directly after the events of The Darkly Luminous Fight for Persephone Parker.

Not being familiar with the previous tale, I felt like I had been dropped into the middle of a story, only because I had been. Once I caught up, things got a lot more interesting.

The title of the story is a play on both Dickens’ classic and the name of one of the characters. The author’s world is a close parallel to our Victorian era, except that the Victorian fascination with spiritualism represents concern about a real, and sometimes dangerous threat. But the spirits of Hieber’s “Whisper-World”, can also help the living, just as Marley’s Ghost arranges in Dickens’ famous Christmas Carol.

The “Carroll” in Hieber’s story is Michael Carroll, and the spirits help both him and Rebecca Thompson to discover not the true meaning of Christmas, but the true meanings of both friendship and love in this wrap-up of her series.

Although enough of Michael and Rebecca’s story was told in flashbacks for me to empathize with them, I would have enjoyed this more if I had read the entire series. But I enjoyed it enough, and I was intrigued enough, that I plan on going back and reading everything!

The Worth of a Sylph by L.J. McDonald is the second piece in the book. Lily Blackwell is an elderly woman who raises orphans in a remote house in Sylph Valley. She is also the human Master of a Battle Sylph named Mace. Mastery can be an equitable, loving arrangement, and in this case it is, although it is not always so. Sylphs provide the different types of magic that keep the Valley heated, the crops irrigated, provide water for washing, and protection, among other things. Linking to a master provides a Sylph with nourishment, including emotional sustenance, and a way of remaining in the world.

When the last of Lily’s orphans runs away, out of the Valley, she tasks Mace with retrieving the boy, no matter where he has gone. She also charges him with finding himself a new master before she dies, one that she can approve of. On Mace’s quest, he finds, not just the boy he was sent for, but a woman he can truly love and spend a life with, and not just one son, but two.

The story takes place during the Winter Festival, which is supposed to be celebrated with family. There is a message in the story that the family you create with love can be much stronger that the one you are born to.

Although Worth of a Sylph is also a part of a continuing series that begins with The Battle Sylph, it was much less obvious about it. I was able to jump right into the story and be involved with the characters right away. The story was complete in and of itself.

Last, but not least, the final story in this anthology is The Crystal Crib, by Helen Scott Taylor. I said not least, because the story deals with some larger than life figures, the Norse gods. Odin is the bad guy, having kept a father from his daughter for over 2,000 years, and enslaving his sons for the same length of time, all for crimes that other people committed.  Odin is someone who really knows how to hold a grudge!

Sonja thinks she has come to Iceland to convince the owner of “Santa’s Magical Wonderland” to allow her Aunt’s travel company to arrange tours to his resort. Little does she know that the owner of the resort is Vidar, the son of Odin, and, is also the “Guardian Angel” who has been protecting her all of her life. And, that her life has been considerably longer than the scant decades she remembers.

Her unexpected presence in Odin’s backyard forces a confrontation among the gods, monsters and angels who have protected her for her entire existence, and brings surprising dangers and rewards to everyone in her path.  This was a story about love truly conquering all.

This story is set in the same universe as Taylor’s The Magic Knot, but it reads as a stand-alone. I read it as someone playing tricks on Odin, which, considering the story, and considering other stories about Odin, seemed perfectly fair to me. However, this was also the least satisfying of the three stories. I wanted a lot more explanation for a 2,000 year old grudge than I got. And the heroine took the fact that she had been in suspended animation for those same two millennia a bit too much in stride, especially factoring in that her lover had been watching over her the entire time! Oh, and she might not die, ever. There was a bit too much fantasy in this fantasy.

Out of three stories, I vote Sylph very satisfying and complete, Carroll good and intriguing enough to make me want more, and Crystal not satisfying enough to make me go back for a return visit to the author’s world. YMMV.

Escape Ratings:  Christmas Carroll B+, Worth of a Sylph, A and, The Crystal Crib, C.